I’ve been doing extra chores this week, since my wife Jessica is out of the country. Even with the freezer full of food she left us, it still takes a lot of time and effort to keep things going around here. Dishes and clothes and bathrooms don’t clean themselves, and it doesn’t matter how many times I brush the floor, it’s dirty again. I knew this was coming, and I do housework anyway, but there’s another side of the job that I’ve found more difficult than the extra physical labour involved in being the only adult in a house with three children. There’s a hidden weight in housework that is heavier than all the dishes and laundry and dirt combined: The mental strain of keeping up with all the various things that need to happen, and when, and how.
Our family loves camping. As soon as we get home from one excursion, we start looking forward to the next. But why?
It’s tons of work.
The packing takes ages. There’s lots of specific (and bulky) equipment needed, and there are complicated logistics like cooking without a kitchen. Even with all the equipment, it’s still uncomfortable. Air mattresses are nice, but the nights are still cold, the walls are still thin, the showers and toilets are far away, and somehow the bugs seem to prefer being inside the tent to anywhere else in the world. I guess they don’t mind the fact that we all smell like the fire.
We have a good, warm house and comfortable beds. Why would we do this to ourselves?
My wife and I got married 15 years ago this week. Shortly after, I wrote a short poem for my new bride:
Are there seasons to love, new months and years bring?
If seasons there are, our love is the Spring
A sapling still budding, fresh fruit on the vine
With roots planted deep in the well of Divine
Must needs there be Winter? I haven’t a clue
My prayer is to always be growing the New
But seasons can come, and seasons can go
Our love will remain, it will always be so
Though slowly, yet surely, this oak of the Lord
Will grow up precisely as it has been told
Till stands in God’s garden a tree strong and true
That brings Him a smile as He’s passing through
I suppose it’s natural when you begin something to think of the ending. But there’s something else I didn’t think of so much back then, something we’re living a lot of right now. It’s something you might call “the middle”, or in the words of the poem, that “slowly, yet surely” bit. Saplings may be full of exciting potential, and mature oaks of awe-inspiring strength, but it’s the transformation from one to the other that accounts for the majority of the life of the tree. And our marriage.
It was my mother’s dream to have a log house, and my father built her one in Possum Holler, in the rolling hills of northern Alabama. You’d have trouble finding that name on a map, but it’s the place I grew up alongside the peach and pecan trees my Dad planted in front of the house. I didn’t see very many Opossums there, but it was a Hollow in the mountains, so that fits. There was a lake as well, and a small cave to explore, and a sinkhole, and the forest on the mountain behind us was basically endless. I would certainly have gotten lost several times in those woods, if I hadn’t had our dog along to show me the way home. She always knew, and I learned to trust her, even when I thought she was wrong.
Last year on our flight to America, my boys were looking forward to the Pac-Man knockoff game on the in-flight entertainment system before we even boarded. My daughter remembered which movies she had watched two flights before. She had just turned six, and was about to take her fourth trip over the Atlantic.
This was not my childhood.
This week twelve years ago, we should have been welcoming our firstborn child, but she wasn’t here. I’ve written about the day we found out about Hannah’s death in this post. This week, in honour of the daughter we haven’t met (yet), I’m sharing a poem I wrote shortly afterwards to process my thoughts about God and the death of a child.
I’ve a treasury of moments, frozen now, and stored. A freezer full of timesicles I’ve carefully preserved. I love the smell of happiness these memories still hold, and yet I know the beating life in them can never be restored. Each moment past is frozen fast, unchanging to eternity: a monument carved in the stone face of Time, a smile, laughter, a frown. The image of life with it’s breath removed, the death-mask of vibrant Now. As my timesicle collection grows, I understand more and more why the simple act of living a few decades seems to leave humanity looking over our shoulders in wide-eyed amazement at the pace of life. The shock of seeing so many living, breathing moments frozen behind us can’t be easily shaken off. The thought of today’s warmth joining them soon, followed closely by all our tomorrows, can draw the cold air right out of the freezer and encase our hearts in icy fear.